January 13, 2021
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Clean indoor air is so important since most of us spend an average of 93% of our time inside (yikes!). Pet dander, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are just some of the toxins you’ll find floating in indoor air. This is one of the reasons we use an indoor air filter daily and keep houseplants all around the house.
How Bad Is Indoor Air?
Like most things, air quality depends on several factors. Living next to crowded cities, highways, and chemically sprayed farm fields create a higher risk of indoor air pollution. According to EPA scientists, high temperature and humidity levels also increase certain pollutants.
A whopping 30-50% of all buildings are damp enough to encourage mold and bacteria growth according to EPA reports on air quality and asthma. These pathogens then increase the risk of certain health conditions, like asthma and infectious diseases. The EPA’s Guide to Indoor Air Quality also confirms “air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.”
Of course, spending as much time as possible outside in nature is the best option. But when it is necessary to be indoors, it’s important to have clean indoor air! The more air pollution we have, the higher the risk of immediate and chronic long-term health problems.
What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?
It depends on a lot of factors, but the good news is much of the indoor air quality is under our control. Some common sources of air pollution inside include:
- Outdoor air pollution leaking in
- VOCs off-gassing from paint, furniture, flooring, etc.
- Pet dander
- Conventional cleaners, air fresheners, and other fragrances
- Gas stoves and other appliances (especially older ones)
- Dampness and mold growth
- Carpet, drapes, and other furnishings that collect dust and dirt
Natural Ways to Purify and Clean Indoor Air
Before we jump to cleaning indoor air, we have to address what’s making it dirty in the first place. Dust, mold, and pet dander are just a few of the things that lurk around the house, causing air pollution. Dust mites love damp, human-inhabited areas, like mattresses, furniture, and carpet.
Although they’re microscopic, dust mite waste can lead to health issues like asthma, gut disease, and eczema to name a few.
Step one to purifying indoor air: pull out the vacuum and DIY dusting spray.
1. Vacuum Away Air Pollution
Invest in a good vacuum and use it regularly. Many experts recommend HEPA filters, though it isn’t always necessary. My favorite (and durable) vacuum is this one. Because carpets hide away pollution and allergens (even when vacuumed), minimizing the amount of carpet in the house will help. Just one square yard of carpet can house 100,000 dust mites!
If you do keep carpet and rugs around, deep cleaning them on occasion will further help purify indoor air.
Here’s more on how to keep allergens and pollution to a minimum with regular cleaning:
- Keep up on dusting and cleaning (taking out trash, wiping down surfaces, etc.)
- Clean drapes, blinds, and bedding regularly
- Leave shoes at the door to avoid tracking pollen and muck into the home
- Go minimalist, there’s less to dust!
All that said, there is such a thing as too clean. Like our gut, our home has a microbiome. Children who are around pets and farm animals actually have less risk of developing asthma. I keep my cleaning routine simple, no fancy cleaners, and use Homebiotic (which is like a probiotic for your house!).
2. Brush Fido
As much as we love our furry friends, pets are another common source of indoor air pollution. Pets should be regularly bathed and groomed, especially if they have access to outdoors. This will help cut down on dander, pet hair, and dirt in the home.
3. Use Natural Air Fresheners
Conventional air fresheners don’t actually freshen the air, they just coat it in toxins. Natural air fresheners work differently. Instead of hiding smells they neutralize them at the source. Obviously if there’s something stinky in the home (like a bag of old trash or musty items), we’ll need to remove it.
Using natural air fresheners and diffusing essential oils can help remove the lingering odors left behind. These also help reduce microbes, bacteria, and dust mites in the air.
4. Beeswax Candles
Candles are cozy and have an inviting smell, but they’re not all created equal. Paraffin and soy wax candles pollute the air, but beeswax does the opposite.
Ready for some cool science??
Pollution in the air has positively charged ions. When we burn beeswax it creates negative ions which then bond to the positively charged ions. The results are cleaner air and a yummy smelling home.
Beeswax candles are often helpful for those with asthma or allergies and effectively remove common allergens like dust and dander from the air. Beeswax candles also burn more slowly than paraffin candles so they last much longer.
I only use beeswax candles in our house. We buy them by the case and our favorites are:
5. Check the HVAC System
While it’s not as fun as essential oils and beeswax candles, good air conditioning and heating systems are a must for cleaner air. For those who live in more polluted areas, an AC system helps to filter incoming air. If you live in an area where outdoor isn’t much of a concern, then opening up the windows and airing out the house is a good idea.
It’s also important to change HVAC filters regularly. You can even add a few drops of a purifying essential oil to disposable filters. Lemon, lime, orange, lemongrass, and clove are some of my favorites to purify indoor air.
6. Avoid Mold and Mycotoxins
According to the EPA, about 30-50% of buildings have damp conditions prime for mold growth. Mold and the mycotoxins it produces can cause a myriad of health problems. For cleaner indoor air, remove any sources of moisture and promptly fix leaks.
It’s important to remove any porous moldy or musty items from an indoor space (like drywall, wood, or paper). Non-porous items that have been exposed to mold (like metal, glass, and some plastics) can be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
7. Choose Low VOC Furnishings
That picture-perfect HGTV home may have a dirty secret hiding behind that chaise lounge. Certain fabrics and housing materials emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to indoor air pollution. Flooring, paint, drywall, room sprays, and many cleaners are common sources of VOCs.
According to the EPA, VOCs are known to cause a variety of health issues including headaches, dizziness, and cancer.
Choose low VOC building materials and furnishings when buying new. New furniture can also spend a few weeks in the garage to off-gas before bringing it into the home. Opting for natural cleaners and skipping synthetic air fresheners will also reduce VOCs in the home.
8. Cut Down on Cooking Pollution
It’s hard to imagine, but that Sunday pot roast could be adding to indoor air pollution. The World Health Organization sets the indoor limit of exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at 106 ppb during a one hour time period.
According to a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute, Gas Stoves: Health and Air Quality Impacts and Solutions, cooking in a gas oven emits 130-546 ppb. This far exceeds safety limits. Cooking on a gas range clocks in at 82-300 ppb. Gas stoves can also emit dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide, a gas that can’t be seen or smelled.
For homes with a gas stove, it’s important to have a well maintained and properly adjusted gas stove. Newer stoves put out significantly less carbon monoxide than older versions, according to the EPA.
It’s also important to vent stoves with an exhaust fan. If the stove doesn’t have a fan, an open window with a fan in it to pull cooking fumes outside is another option.
Certain cooking oils, like extra virgin olive oil have a low cooking temperature. When they’re used on the stovetop it can quickly create smoke and fumes in the air. Opt for oils with a higher cooking temperature, like naturally refined coconut oil and high oleic sunflower oil.
9. Get More Plants!
Many of us have heard of the NASA study that looked at plants to clean indoor air. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. The decades-old study was conducted in a sealed, tightly controlled room. A 2014 review in Environmental Science Pollution Res took another look at the original NASA study in light of more recent research.
While the plant’s ability to take up VOCs is well documented in laboratory studies, the effect of plants on indoor air in complex environments like offices requires further investigations to clarify the full capacity of plants in real-life settings.
Some experts claim it would take an impossible number of plants to make a dent in indoor building air. Others point to evidence showing you would only need 15-18 houseplants in a 1,800 square foot space.
Surprisingly, it may not be the plant only that’s cleaning the air.
Research in 2004 found dirt microbes play a big role in purifying indoor air. Micro-organisms in the potting mix rhizosphere do the bulk of the work. In certain plant species, the plant itself also did some of the leg work in air purification.
While the jury may still be out on this one, my vote is for more greenery in the home. I also might have a slight plant addiction. You can read more here about which plants I’ve tested over the years and found to be the best plants for cleaning indoor air.
10. Use Salt Lamps
Salt lamps are another natural way to clean indoor air. These are made from Himalayan salt crystals and just like the beeswax candles, they release negative ions. Although the amount of negative ions may not be enough to clean air that well, salt lamps may help clean the air in other ways.
They’re also a beautiful light source. The only downside…. my kids like to lick them!
We don’t do night lights in our kids’ rooms, but if we did or if we need a light source at night for reading, we use salt lamps. The natural orange glow doesn’t disrupt sleep hormones like fluorescent or blue lights do and I find it very relaxing.
We have an 8-inch salt lamp that we use regularly (it is also the most cost effective for its size, as the bigger lamps can get very pricey).
10. Put Bamboo Charcoal Around the House
Another natural air cleaning option I recently discovered is bamboo charcoal. I’ve talked about some of my unusual uses for charcoal before and we use a charcoal block water filter to remove toxins from our water.
Activated charcoal is a chemical adsorbent, meaning it binds to toxins and chemicals and neutralizes them. Charcoal can have the same toxin-removing effect on the air. We use bamboo charcoal in burlap bags in our house. They work wonders for odor removal and removing toxins from the air.
I’ve found these are also great for removing odors from cars or the bathroom (especially if you have recently potty-trained boys who don’t always have perfect aim!).
We use these Mosu bags in every room of our house.
11. Invest in Air Filters
While there are many inexpensive and easy ways to clean indoor air, an air filter is still a good idea. Houseplants and opening the windows can only go so far to clean indoor air. Our family uses a combination of all of the above, including keeping air filters in the house. Here’s which air filters work best and are my personal favorites.
What ways have you tried to freshen indoor air? Is there anything on this list you’ll add to your routine? Drop us a comment and let us know!
- American Lung Association. (2020, February 12). Carpets. https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/carpets
- Cruz, M., Christensen, J., Thomsen, J., Muller, R. (2014, June 19). Can ornamental potted plants remove volatile organic compounds from indoor air? – a review. Environmental Science Pollution Res. DOI 10.1007/s11356-014-3240-x
- Klepeis, N., Nelson, W., Ott, W., Robinson, J., Tsang, A., Switzer, P. (n.d.). The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants.https://indoor.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-47713.pdf
- Orwell, R., Wood, R., Tarran, J., et al. (2004). Removal of Benzene by the Indoor Plant/Substrate Microcosm and Implications for Air Quality. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution. 157, 193–207. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/B:WATE.0000038896.55713.5b
- Seals, B., Krasner, A. (2020). Gas Stoves Health and Air Quality Impacts and Solutions. https://rmi.org/insight/gas-stoves-pollution-health
- United States Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): Protect Indoor air quality in your home. EPA. https://indoor.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-47713.pdf
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Asthma, Asthma Triggers: Gain Control. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/asthma/asthma-triggers-gain-control
- Wolverton, B., Wolverton, J. (1993). Plants and Soil Micororganisms: Removal of Formaldehyde, Xylene, and Ammonia from the Indoor Environment. Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences, 38, 2. http://www.wolvertonenvironmental.com/MsAcad-93.pdf